Premium motorcycle suspension components are costly and don’t make motorcycles look that much more appealing on the showroom floor. Hence, corporate bean counters tend to cheap out on these vital chassis components, particularly on forks and rear shocks.
This was certainly the case on a 1999 Triumph Speed Triple we had around the office, which came with a primitive damper-rod fork and a bargain-basement rear shock. It was still a cool bike and ran well, but the suspension definitely lacked the refinements of newer and more expensive models.
This malady afflicts many motorcycles, but fortunately there’s something you can do about it. Race Tech offers a number of well-designed suspension solutions, including better springs front and rear, shock revalving, and their Gold Valve fork inserts. With conventional damper-rods, oil gets forced through fixed orifices. However, when hitting sharp-edged bumps, fork oil can’t move through the orifices fast enough, so hydraulic lock occurs, making the fork effectively solid. Gold Valves direct fork oil through special shim packs, similar to those in pricier cartridge forks, and open during sharp hits.
We decided to renew the suspension on the Triumph at both ends, with new seals and bushings in the front along with a rear shock rebuild. Several special tools are needed, including special drivers and a spring compressor. Trying to improvise could cause damage and injury, so unless your shop is setup for such services, we recommend you take it to a motorcycle shop to have the work done. Otherwise, follow along as we have a local shop perform the work to determine if this is something you can tackle. Many DIYers might find they can save money by doing some of the work themselves, such as removing the rear shock and fork assembly and taking them to their favorite local motorcycle emporium.
We recommend following the procedures outlined in the factory service manual, along with the Race Tech instructions. Position the bike on a motorcycle jack placed under the engine, and lift until the wheels are just off the ground. Use tie-down straps to keep the bike from tipping. Remove the front fender and wheel. Loosen the bolts near the top of each fork tube in the upper triple clamp, and then unscrew the two top caps. Remove the bolts that clamp the fork tubes in the lower triple clamp, one side at a time. As the bolts are removed, the fork tube should slip downward easily. If the fork legs don’t slip out easily, tap them downward with a rubber mallet to break them loose. Hold your finger over the top to hold the parts in, and invert the fork leg over a drain pan to drain the oil. This is messy, so cover the floor with newspapers and have plenty of clean rags. Remove all spacers, washers, and springs, noting their positions.
Follow the Race Tech instructions and replace any seals, bushings, etc. as needed. After assembly, add the specified amount of fork oil and install the fork leg. Repeat this process for the other side. Reinstall all remaining parts in the reverse order of removal, apply blue Loctite to threads, and torque to factory specifications.
With the motorcycle raised and secured and the wheel just off the ground, remove the shock’s upper and lower mounting bolts. Remove the shock and service it per Race Tech instructions (or have it done by a mechanic). Clean and inspect all fasteners, and apply blue Loctite to the threads. Slip the new shock into place and tighten fasteners to factory-specified torques. Reinstall remaining components and inspect your work. Measure static sag and adjust preload setting as needed.
After the upgrade, we have a much more stable motorcycle, with a planted, more controlled feel. The bike feels sportier, yet less harsh than before. If you have a motorcycle you like that’s in good condition otherwise but could use better suspension, this may be the way to go.
Race Tech, (951) 279-6655, www.racetech.com
Text: Ken Freund
Photography: Christa Neuhauser